'Our national shame': Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt blasts British society’s neglect of its elderly
Jeremy Hunt's provocative speech blaming public for growing isolation of old people is welcomed by charities
Up to a million elderly people are being consigned to a life of loneliness and ill health because of society’s shameful failure to take responsibility for older relatives, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will say today.
In a provocative speech, Mr Hunt will warn that too many old people are unnecessarily placed into care or left isolated in their own homes when they could be looked after by relatives. He will also call on Britain to learn from other cultures where “the social contract” between young and old is far stronger.
Mr Hunt’s comments, which have been welcomed by charities, represent the first time that the Government has waded into the controversial debate around society’s responsibility towards Britain’s growing elderly population.
But it also highlights the concern amongst ministers at the increasing cost to the state of looking after people who might otherwise be cared for by relatives.
In the speech to the National Children and Adults Service (NCAS) conference, Mr Hunt is expected to highlight research showing there are now 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely. And he will claim that “each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship”.
“There is a problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society,” he will say. “Apart from the sheer cost of human unhappiness, loneliness is as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is worse for you than obesity because it increases the risk of heart disease, blood clots and dementia.”
He adds that the lonely elderly “live amongst us – ignored to our national shame”. Mr Hunt, who has a Chinese wife, will say that he has been “struck by the reverence and respect for older people in Asian culture” and suggest that Britain has much to learn from the way other countries look after and respect the elderly.
“In those countries, when living alone is no longer possible, residential care is a last rather than a first option,” he will say. “And the social contract is stronger because as children see how their own grandparents are looked after, they develop higher expectations of how they too will be treated when they get old… We must learn from this – and restore and re-invigorate the social contract between generations.”
Mr Hunt will stress he believes there are clear circumstances when a care home was the “right option” for an older person. And he says no family should feel condemned for taking “that difficult decision”. But he adds it is important not to have to settle for care that is just “good enough”.
Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age UK, said she agreed with Mr Hunt that “a seismic shift is needed in attitudes towards older people and ageing in this country”.
But she added she was extremely concerned that cuts to local authority budgets were exacerbating the problem of loneliness because they are causing the closure of many support services for older people, like lunch clubs.
“We can all do our bit to help fight the growing problem of loneliness by making time for older relatives, friends and neighbours,” she said. “But the Government must also take action to address the huge gap in social care funding.”
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 4 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 5 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook CEO's one simple test for who to hire
Bali nine: Welcome to 'Execution Island' – the Indonesian holiday resort where foreigners are sent to die
'A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy': The statement that shocked the world... except India
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Saudi Arabia executions now at 'unprecedented rate' after kingdom kills four more in two days
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...
£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...
£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...
£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...